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Apple racing to bring smartphone apps to cars

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple is accelerating the race to make smartphone applications easier and safer to use in cars.

Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo are previewing Apple’s iPhone technology for cars this week at an auto show in Geneva.

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The partnerships give Apple an early lead over Google’s loosely knit family of Android phones in a duel to make mobile applications more accessible while drivers are behind the wheel. Apple’s iOS mobile software and Google’s Android operating system power most of the smartphones in the world.

Two months ago, Google Inc. announced it is working with several automakers to turn Android phones into an essential part of cars. Google hopes to finish work on its system for tethering Android phones to cars by the end of this year.

Apple Inc. announced its automobile ambitions nine months ago when it unveiled its ‘‘iOS in the Car’’ initiative, a reference to the operating system that powers the iPhone and the iPad. Now that the idea is moving closer to reality, Apple is renaming the technology ‘‘CarPlay.’’

The system announced Monday enables iPhones to plug into cars so drivers can call up maps, make calls, and request music with voice commands or a touch on a vehicle’s dashboard screen.

By making smartphones work more seamlessly with automobiles, both Apple and Google are hoping to immerse their services even deeper into peoples’ lives. In doing so, the companies expect to make money by selling advertising, applications, and upgrades on smartphones that will become even more indispensable.

‘‘IPhone users always want their content at their fingertips and CarPlay lets drivers use their iPhone in the car with minimized distraction,’’ said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice president of iPhone and iOS product marketing.

Automakers are hoping vehicles that are compatible with the top-selling smartphones will be easier to sell to consumers who can’t fathom living without the devices.

Cars of recent vintage increasingly feature electronics designed to cater to drivers’ high-tech desires, but those systems still haven’t attracted a widespread following. That has led more automakers to conclude that it makes sense to work directly with technology companies such as Apple and Google to turn their cars into smartphone extensions.

CarPlay requires Apple’s latest mobile software, iOS 7, and an iPhone 5, 5C, or 5S.

Ferrari is previewing CarPlay on its four-wheel-drive FF model. Volvo plans to feature the iPhone system in its redesigned Volvo XC90 sports utility vehicle. Mercedes-Benz isn’t disclosing which models will get CarPlay, but expects both its S-Class large sedan and C-Class mid-size sedan should be compatible with the system.

A long list of other automakers, including General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., and Honda, also are drawing up plans for CarPlay, according to Apple.

So far, GM, Honda, Hyundai, and Audi have signed up for Google’s ‘‘Open Automotive Alliance’’ for Android. GM and Honda declined to comment on their CarPlay plans.

Ford said it will deploy CarPlay as one of several options for making its cars work more smoothly with smartphones. The automaker already features a voice-control system called ‘‘Sync’’ made by Microsoft Corp. in some of its cars. Ford also offers its own touch-screen technology in its vehicles.

The choices are designed to ensure ‘‘you don’t have to make a $30,000 decision about what car you’re going to buy based on your $200 smartphone,’’ said Raj Nair, Ford’s product development chief.

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